4 Fantasy Cliches and How to Avoid Them

Four Fantasy ClichesWow, it’s been like two days and I’m posting a second time.  Don’t get used to this because it will probably never happen again.

As of last night, I just reached 90,000 words on the current draft of the novel I’m working on.  It’s YA fantasy and I am kicking myself over it.  Number one, it still isn’t done, and number two, if it gets any longer my chances of publishing it go way down.  Now, some may say “Well, just edit it and take out the unnecessary parts,” but I’ve already done that. My writing style just covers the bare basics anyways, and I’m not a fan of flowing, flowery prose.  I’m short and to the point, and still confused at how I’m at 90,000 words, when it seems like just yesterday I was celebrating about being at 60,000.

Anyways, in the spirit of writing, I’ve decided to talk about some of my most hated fantasy cliches, and I, clearly being the expert at writing I am (please note the sarcasm), will do my best to show you how to avoid those cliches while bashing my first novel.  Enjoy!

  1. The Chosen One

I am immediately thrown out of the story the second I see a prophecy about the chosen one.  I will admit, I have done this before, but it was in the same novel I talked about in my last post, and that will never see the light of day.  In it, there was a prophecy (about having black hair, or something, I know it’s dumb, but please remember I was twelve and apparently the only thing that rhymed with ‘light’ was ‘hair as black as night.’) and it said that these three characters would be the ones to save Fumeria from the evil wizard Scabious (who had no reason to be evil, we’ll talk about that later).  Then, I tried to be clever and added this whole plot twist in where they had discovered the wrong prophecy, but never really explained what the second prophecy was.


My main problem with the chosen one is that it is overdone, and a good 85% (don’t listen to me, I just made that number up) of the times the chosen one is a farmhand living in the middle of nowhere with his aunt and uncle.  Why?  I don’t know.  But, if you are going to go he chosen one route, I think that it would be very interesting if the character everyone thought was the chosen one wasn’t, and that character had to come to terms with the fact that he was still nobody from nowhereville.  It could also be really interesting if that character turned out to be the villain, and the story was told from the villain’s point of view.

2. The Pure Evil Villain, who Has No Reason to be Evil.  Like, Seriously, Why?

Every villain must have a motivation for being evil.  I’m sorry, but nobody is just pure evil.  Something had to shape the character to become like that.  As I mentioned earlier, I have also been guilty of this in my first novel, and even in my current work in progress, I sometimes find that the villains’ motivations are a little fuzzy.  My acting teacher once told me that in every scene who had to find your character’s motivation.  This tip also has to work for writing. Having the Supremely Evil Warlock kill thousands of innocent peasants just because he feels like it gets the point across that he’s evil, but the villain is completely unrelatable.  The best villains are the understandable ones.  The readers must be able to understand where they are coming from, and make the choice for themselves if the villain is truly evil.  For example, instead of killing the peasants for no reason, maybe the villain kills the peasants in a last ditch attempt to stop the uprisings that have been happening all over his empire.  Or maybe, the villain is afraid that the peasants have the one thing that can remove the villain from power.  Basing your villain’s motivations off of emotions that all readers can relate too will make a much scarier villain, since your readers will understand where they are coming from.

3. The Mentor

Now, I’m not saying that your hero can’t have a mentor.  I’m saying that if this mentor is an old, white-bearded wizard you may want to reconsider.  I think that having your hero struggle through his journey alone is more interesting than having a guide the entire time.  That way, readers can see what the hero is really made of, and the hero will get more of a chance to grapple with moral decisions that may not have happened if a mentor was there to help them make decisions.  Having a character make a mistake and then have to deal with the consequence is way more interesting than a character who does everything right on the first try.

If you must have a mentor, I suggest just changing the stereotype of an old wizard.  The one good thing I did in my first novel was make my hero’s mentor a kindly old witch who was more concerned with doing the moral thing than doing what is necessary.  Making the mentor a woman, or someone younger could be an interesting twist depending on how they interact with the hero.  To twist the cliche even more, you could consider making the mentor someone who is morally ambiguous.  Then, your hero has to decide whether or not to listen to their mentor or to themselves.

4. Characters who Can’t Stay Dead

I’m guessing this cliche started with the Bible in some form (I’m sure that there are older myths along the same lines, though).  The protagonist, Jesus, in this case, rises from the dead to defeat the great evil.  In the past 2,000 years it’s been done and done again, and I, for one, can’t really take it seriously anymore.

Don’t get me wrong, though, if Aragorn never came back after falling off that cliff in the Two Towers I would have cried.  Forever.  In fact, I wouldn’t be writing this post right now, I would be crying.  The only other example of this that I liked was in Little House on the Prairie when Jacks meets up with the Ingalls again after they thought he was dead.  But, I do have to be lenient in that case.  Jack was a dog, and Little House on the Prairie was a true story.  I guess I’ll let that one slide.

But, you have to admit, sometimes characters who can’t stay dead can be a little annoying.  Well, maybe more than a little.

For example, as I mentioned in my previous post, I have been reading the Sword of Shannara lately, and (spoiler alert!) I could not believe that Hendel survived the Gnomes on the Pass of Jade.  It was assumed that he had been hacked to pieces, and instead he casually strolled up to the rest of the group later on and announced that he wasn’t dead and that he managed to trick the Gnomes into killing one of their own.  It just didn’t seem believable to me, and I felt betrayed.  I was upset over the death of Hendel and I thought it was totally unfair that I went through all those feelings just for him to be fine later on.

I am also guilty of this.  In my first novel, one of my protagonists died like six times, and I’m not even quite sure why.  Even in my current novel there have been some questionable moments where one of my main characters gets repeatedly bashed on the head in every chapter.  While he does get healed by a goddess, I will admit, those parts do need a little bit of reworking.

It’s a sign of lazy writing.  I do this because I cannot commit to killing off my favorite characters, so I have them fake die, only to return later on.

But, may I suggest, that instead of killing off a character only for them to return later, kill that character off at the end, and have them stay dead.  That way, the story doesn’t really have a happy ending, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll feel better about killing them off because there’s no more story to tell and you can mourn their death with your surviving characters.

So, I hoped this helped anyone out there struggling with cliches in their writing.  If you do have cliches in your writing, I wouldn’t worry too much about them because cliches are cliches for a reason.


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